The Leader Who Refuses to Lead: Gun Control

Especially when making a false equivalence and supporting the status quo is so much easier.

President Obama gave us a thousand words or so of equivocating and middling policy proposals, which will satisfy no one, on gun control in the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday.  Administration aides made sure to follow-up with the New York Times: “…But President Obama has no plans to take the lead in proposing further gun control legislation, aides say…”  The logical follow-up question is, “what will he do?”

The op-ed started strong.  It tells of the problems with our broken system of background checks and the 2,000 or so American lives that have been lost to gun violence since the shooting in Tuscon.  They are two powerful facts that should be used propose something new.  The President gives us none of that.  He retreats to the non-position of enforcing current law and reflexively hewing to the right to get to the center.

President Obama begins the middle third of the op-ed with NRA-speak about traditions.  The President then sees fit to chide gun control activists first, patronizingly reminding them that the vast majority of gun owners in the country are responsible and law-abiding.  By the time he gets to “…to forge a nation worthy of our children’s futures”, he spends a significant amount of time misplacing faith in the gun lobby and taking on the gun-control advocates he used to ally himself with.

They’re our friends and neighbors. They buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection. And that’s something that gun-safety advocates need to accept.

President Obama is fond of shoring up his right flank by taking on his left.  The President makes the assumption that he has the left, because what else is there in 2012?  He may be right, but good luck to his team as they try to rally people to back the President when he is standing for the status quo.

The status quo in gun control is enhancing background checks and enforcing current laws.  Unfortunately, that gets us nowhere.  It walls off keeping guns out of the hands of the unstable and criminals from keeping dangerous and unneeded weapons off of our streets.

There is nothing wrong with enforcing the laws that are already on the books.  But the fact that conventional wisdom says that this is the safe place to be is ridiculous.  President Obama has been in office for two years and Democrats controlled congress and a lot of state legislatures since 2006.  Why haven’t we been enforcing current laws?  Why is does this pass for a statement of new policy?

The laws are already in place.  The problem is they are not sufficient.  The President seems to realize this, but suggests nothing new in his piece.  He won’t even open the discussion on reinstating the “assault rifle ban”, which Candidate Obama very much believed in.

Clearly, there’s more we can do to prevent gun violence. But I want this to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people.

The problem is aides went out of their way to stress that there would be no new policy out of the White House.  No new policy means no new discussion.  No new policy means that the President believes this op-ed is enough.

President Obama is clearly seeking to court the gun lobby.  After the powerful open about gun deaths he stresses that his administration has actually expanded gun rights by allowing people to carry in National Parks and Wildlife refuges.  While he does caution gun owners that “commonsense” should not be interpreted as meaning confiscation, he saves his strongest language for gun control advocates.  He declares certain things that gun control advocates “need to accept”, but is “willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few…from getting their hands on a gun in the first place…”

Moreover, the President’s op-ed is not about guns, at least not directly.   It’s about dangerous, unstable people and criminals.  It is an entry in the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” canon.  It shows just how successful the NRA and their allies have been.  Still, the gun lobby and their members are not going to believe the President.  He can come to them and he can swear he won’t even touch the ban on unnecessary assault rifles, but it won’t matter.  The NRA proved that when they snubbed the White House by rejecting an invitation to talk.  They know that nothing serious will happen to gun law.

No one is going to not vote for the President because he has a strong stance on gun control.  Gun owners and the gun lobby already believe that President Obama and Democrats want to storm their homes and take their guns.  They believe this because no ever challenges these snake oil peddlers. The NRA will look strong to their supports for refusing to sit down for a discussion and going after Secretary Clinton, who has nothing to do with domestic gun policy.  Until someone doesn’t back down, the NRA will dictate gun policy through press release.

The President can be that leader.  He can stand up and say enough is enough, we can control what guns are on the streets and who can own them.  We can enhance sentences for violating gun laws.  We can get dangerous weapons off of our streets.  And we can do it without infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens to own handguns and rifles.

There is a small window for reintroducing concepts like the ban of assault rifles or extended magazines.  The strengthening of background checks is vital, but the two bills making their way through the House and Senate will make it nowhere unless the President does more than publish an under-the-radar op-ed in an Arizona paper.  Stronger background checks will presumably make the pool of gun owning Americans safer.  The assault rifle ban will make the types of guns sold in the United States less deadly.  We need both.  We most likely won’t get either.

The President has an opportunity to lead on guns.  He refuses to.

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